Federal Express terminated the employment of Deborah Thornton after she failed to return to work from a 16-month leave of absence taken because of alleged stress stemming from sexual harassment by her immediate supervisor, David Bragorgos. She did not report the retaliation to FedEx until two months after her leave of absence began, claiming that she feared retaliation from Bragorgos and others if she reported it. In Thornton v. Federal Express, decided early this week, the 6th Circuit rejected that argument and upheld summary judgment entered in the employer's favor.
An employee’s subjective fears of confrontation, unpleasantness or retaliation do not alleviate the employee’s duty under Ellerth to alert the employer to the allegedly hostile environment.
In other words, employees have an affirmative obligation to report harassment. In return, the employer has an affirmative to ensure that the employee can do so free from retaliation. The employee is not excused from her responsibilities out of a fear that the employer will not live up to its end of the bargain.